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United States' Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter

Photos

  • Lockheed F-5 Lightning photo reconnaissance
  • Lockheed P-38 Lightning bomber
  • Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter
  • Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter
  • Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter
  • Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter
  • Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter
  • Lockheed P-38 Lightning photo reconnaissance
  • Lockheed P-38 photo reconnaissance
  • Lockheed P-38E Lightning fighter
  • Lockheed P-38M night fighter
  • Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter
  • Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter

Design

The P-38 Lightning was the first military aircraft designed by Lockheed. It was to meet a 1937 specification for a high altitude interceptor that could fly at 20,000' at 360 mph and at 1,500' at 290 mph. The ascent of the plane was to take only six minutes. Many of the aircraft companies of the time thought it was impossible to meet the specification.

H. L. Hibbard and Clarence "Kelly" Johnson, Lockheed's head designers, chose a design with two engine that would have supercharges placed in the tails. Radiators and landing gear were to be located in the tails as well. The design was to have a 23 mm cannon and four machine guns placed in the nose in front of the pilot.

Cockpit

Some pilots complained that in the early models the cockpit was very uncomfortable. At high altitudes some pilots even got frostbit.

Nose

On many of the models the nose held a 20 mm cannon and four .50 cal machine guns providing a powerful punch.

Engines

The Allison engines were sometimes prone to over heat.

The engines had the radiators in the twin booms which gave excellent high-altitude performance.

To eliminate some of the problems of torque in two engine aircraft, the engines were designed to rotate in opposite directions.

Undercarriage

The tricycle undercarriage made the P-38 Lightning easier to land and made the engines easier to maintain.

P-38D

The P-38D Lightning was the first production version.

The Lockheed P-38D Lightning had self sealing fuel tanks and armor protection for the pilot.

The tail system was modified for better control.

P-38F

The Lockheed P-38F Lightning had more powerful engines and could carry ordnance or drop tanks in pylons under the wings which were strenghthened.

The cockpit was rear hinged and opened upwards.

P-38H

The Allison engines were rated at 1,425 HP but were restricted to 1,240 HP. There were cooling problems with the engine.

P-38J

Due to cooling problems in previous version of the P-38, the P-38J had a reorganized cooling and turbo charger intercooling systems. The nacelles had a different shape and deeper intakes.

The dive brakes on the P-39J were electrically controlled.

The engines were no longer limited. Emergency boost was 1,600 HP.

P-38L

The P-38Ls could carry 10 HVAR 5" rockets in trees that were located under the wings.

F-4

The basic Lockheed F-4 Lightning was a standard P-38 with the weapons being removed from the nose and putting a clear nose in with cameras.

F-5

The first F-5A flew in September 1942.

Prototype

A prototype of Lockheed's design was made on June 23, 1937.

The P-38 Lightning prototype (XP-38) first flew on January 27, 1939. It had a 37 mm and four 12.7 mm guns in its nose. The power plant was the Allison V-1710-27/29 which got it to a top speed of 390 mph / 628 kph. The first flight had the flaps come loose and the XP-38 almost crashed. Two weeks later (February 11, 1939), after a trans America record flight, it landing short because of carburetor icing. With only two refueling stops the trip took seven hours and two minutes. The military was duly impressed and in April 1939 ordered thirteen more prototypes. Eventually two more orders brought the total up to 673.

The prototypes had a buffering problem around the tail because of the airflow from the wings. This was corrected in the production models.

Production

The first P-38 production model first flew in June 1941.

150 of the airframes intended for the Lighting I were upgraded to be P-38Fs.

The first flight of the P-38H was in September 1942.

The first P-38J was delivered and first flew in August 1943.

The P-38L entered service in June 1944.

The first F-4 flown was in December 1941.

  • Lockheed XP-38: 1
  • Lockheed YP-38: 13
  • Lockheed P-38: 29
  • Lockheed XP-38A: 1
  • Lockheed P-332: 143
  • Lockheed P-38D: 36
    • Production: July 1941 - ?
  • Lockheed P-38E: 210
    • Production: November 1941 - ?
  • Lockheed P-38F: 526
    • Production: February 1942 - ?, February 1942 - September 1942
  • Lockheed P-38G: 1,082
  • Lockheed P-38H: 601
    • Production: March 1943 - August 1943
  • Lockheed P-38J: 2,970
    • Manufacturer: Lockheed Aircraft Company
  • Lockheed P-38K: 1
  • Lockheed P-38L: 3,923
    • Manufacturer: Lockheed Aircraft Company
    • Manufacturing location: Burbank, California
  • Lockheed F-4: 99
  • Lockheed F-4A: 20
  • Lockheed F-5A: 181
  • Lockheed F-5B: 200
  • Conversions:
    • Lockheed F-5C: 128
    • Lockheed XF-5D: 1
    • Lockheed F-5E-2 and Lockheed F-5E-3: 205
    • Lockheed F-5E-4: 508
    • Lockheed F-5F: unknown
    • Lockheed F-5G: 63
  • Total: 9,394, 9,923, 9,924, 9,942, 10,036
    • Manufacturer: Lockheed Aircraft Company
    • Production: 1940 - 1945

Variants

  • Lockheed 322-61: Lockheed's designation.
  • Lockheed XP-38: Prototype. Had Allison V-1710-C liquid cooled V 12 engines (1,150 HP).
  • Lockheed XP-49: Experimental high altitude plane.
  • Lockheed XP-58: Experimental bomber escort.
  • Lockheed F-4: Photo reconnaissance. Based on P-38E.
  • Lockheed F-4A: Based on P-38F. New camera setup.
  • Lockheed F-5: Photo reconnaissance. Had no armament.
  • Lockheed F-5A: Based on P-38G.
  • Lockheed F-5B: Based on P-38J.
  • Lockheed F-5C: Conversion of P-38J.
  • Lockheed XF-5D: A F-5A converted to carry a prone observer / cameraman in nose.
  • Lockheed F-5E-2 and F-5E-3: Conversion of P-38J.
  • Lockheed F-5E-4: Conversion of P-38L.
  • Lockheed F-5F: Based on P-38L. Longer camera bay.
  • Lockheed F-5G: Conversion of P-38L. Redesigned and longer nose section.
  • Lockheed P-332 / Lockheed Lightning I: Had Allison V-1710-33 engines (1,090 HP) with no superchargers.
  • Lockheed P-38D: First main production model. First version to equip squadrons.
  • Lockheed P-38E: Had 37 mm gun replaced by 20 mm. Two seats.
  • Lockheed P-38F: Could carry up to 2,000 lb / 907 kg of bombs under the wings.
  • Lockheed P-38F:
  • Lockheed P-38F-1:
  • Lockheed P-38F-5:
  • Lockheed P-38F-10:
  • Lockheed P-38F-15: Maneuverability was enhanced by a combat flap setting.
  • Lockheed P-38G: Minor changes in equipment. Engine had increased continuous rating.
  • Lockheed P-38H: Could carry up to 3,200 lb / 1,452 kg of bombs under the wings.
  • Lockheed P-38J: Radiators were moved to chin fairings behind the propellers. With a maximum external fuel load it had an endurance of 12 hours. Had Allison V-1710-89/91 engines.
  • Lockheed P-38J-25: Had a flat windscreen. The instrument panel was revised. There were dive or compressibility flaps under the wings.
  • Lockheed P-38J "droop snoot": Bomb aiming lead ships. Had larger nose installed. A navigator / bombardier would operate a Norden bombsight through a plexiglas section.
  • Lockheed P-38K: Used Allison V-1710-75/77 engines. Larger propellers.
  • Lockheed P-38L: Had Allison V-1710-111/113 engines.
  • Lockheed P-38L"droop snoot": Bomb aiming lead ships. Had larger nose installed. A navigator / bombardier would operate a Norden bombsight through a plexiglas section.
  • Lockheed P-38M: Night fighter.
  • Lockheed P-38N: Night fighter. Radar equipped. A revised canopy allowed for a radar operator to be seated behind the pilot. 75 converted from P-38Ls.

Usage

More than 100 United States Army squadrons were equipped with the P-38.

Mediterranean Terror

The Luftwaffe pilots named the P-38 the der gabelschwanz Teufel, the "fork-tailed devil" or the "devil with the cleft tail."

American Aces

Major Richard I. Bong, with 40 victories, and Tommy McGuire, with 38 victories, were the top American aces that used the P-38.

Yamamoto Shot Down

A long range mission to shoot down Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was conducted in the P-38.

United Kingdom

In December 1941 the 143 P-38s that Britain had ordered started to arrive.

Was initially called the Atlanta by the British.

The British ordered 250 in May 1940. A contract for 417 for France was taken over by the British. The first shipment of 143 P-38s to England did not have the turbo charges which lead to the P-38 not being well received. These were sent back to the United States where they were used as trainers.

Tops In the Pacific

The P-38 was used to shoot down more Japanese aircraft than any other type used in the Pacific.

P-38E

The Lockheed P-38Es were first used in the Aleutians in June 1942.

The first kill by a P-38 was a Kawanishi Mavis.

Armament

The P-38E had a 20mm gun installed in the nose.

P-38F

The P-38F was used in all theaters.

First American P-38 Kill

A P-38F was the first to shoot down a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor over the Atlantic.

P-38G

The P-38G first appeared in September 1942.

P-38L

9th Tactical Air Force

The P-39Ls were primarily used in their role as a fighter bomber with the 9th Tactical Air Force after 1943.

After World War II

Honduras received some of the extra P-38Ls after World War II.

F-4

The F-4 was used by Australia, France, and the United States.

First Lightnings Used in Pacific

The F-4 Lightnings were the first used on missions in the Pacific by photographing Japanese movements starting in April 1942.

F-5

The F-5 was used by China, France, and the United States.

Specifications

  P-38 Lightning
Type Fighter
Engine (Type) 2: Allison V-1710-C15
HP 1,090 each
Dimensions  
Span 52'
Length 37' 10"
Height 9' 10"
Weight  
Loaded 14,350 lb
Performance  
Speed 400 mph
Range 1,070 miles
Armament  
Nose 1: cannon
4: MG
  P-38D Lightning
Type Fighter
Crew 1
Engine (Type) 2: Allison V-1710-27/29
Cylinders V 12
HP 1,150 each
Propeller blades 3 each
Dimensions  
Span 52'
15.85 m
Length 37' 10"
11.53 m
Height 9' 10"
3 m
Weight  
Empty 11,780 lb
5,343 kg
Loaded 15,500 lb
7,031 kg
Performance  
Speed at 20,000' / 6,096 m 389 mph
627 kph
Cruising speed 300 mph
482 kph
Climb to 20,000' / 6,096 m 8 minutes
Service ceiling 39,000'
11,887 m
Range 975 miles
1,569 km
Armament  
Nose 1: 30 mm
4: 0.5" MG
  P-38E Lightning
Type Fighter
Crew 1
Engine (Type) 2: Allison V-1710-27/29
Cylinders V 12
HP 1,150 each
Propeller blades 3 each
Dimensions  
Span 52'
15.85 m
Length 37' 10"
11.53 m
Height 9' 10"
3 m
Armament  
Nose 1: 20 mm
4: 0.5" MG
  P-38F Lightning
Type Fighter, Fighter bomber
Crew 1
Engine (Type) 2: Allison V-1710-49
2: Allison V-1710-49/53
Cylinders V 12
Cooling Liquid
HP 1,325 each
Propeller blades 3 each
Dimensions  
Span 52'
15.85 m
Length 37' 10"
11.53 m
Height 9' 10"
3 m
Weight  
Empty 12,265 lb
5,563 kg
Loaded 15,800 lb
7,167 kg
Maximum load 18,000 lb
8,165 kg
Performance  
Speed at 5,000' / 1,524 m 346 mph
558 kph
Speed at 25,000' / 7,620 m 395 mph
635 kph
Cruising speed 305 mph
491 kph
Climb 2,900'/minute
884 m/minute
Climb to 20,000' / 6,096 m 8.8 minutes
Service ceiling 39,000'
11,887 m
Range 450 miles, 700 miles
1,126 km
Range with drop tanks 1,425 miles
2,293 km
Armament 1: 20 mm
4: MG
Nose 1: 20 mm
4: 0.5" MG
Bombs - under wings 2,000 lb
907 kg
  P-38G Lightning
Type Fighter bomber
Crew 1
Engine (Type) 2: Allison V-1710-51/55
Cylinders V 12
HP 1,325 each
Propeller blades 3 each
Dimensions  
Span 52'
15.85 m
Length 37' 10"
11.53 m
Height 9' 10"
3 m
Armament  
Nose 1: 20 mm
4: 0.5" MG
Bombs - under wings, early production 2,000 lb
907 kg
Bombs - under wings, later production 4,000 lb
1,814 kg
  P-38H Lightning
Type Fighter bomber
Crew 1
Engine (Type) 2: Allison V-1710-89/91
HP 1,425 each
Propeller blades 3 each
Dimensions  
Span 52'
15.85 m
Length 37' 10"
11.53 m
Height 9' 10"
3 m
Weight  
Empty 12,380 lb
5,616 kg
Loaded 16,300 lb
7,394 kg
Maximum weight 20,300 lb
9,208 kg
Performance  
Speed at 5,000' / 1,524 m 345 mph
555 kph
Speed at 25,000' 7,620 m 402 mph
647 kph
Cruising speed 300 mph
483 kph
Climb 2,800'/minute
853 m/minute
Range with drop tanks 1,950 miles
3,138 km
Maximum ferry range 2,200 miles
3,540 km
Armament  
Nose 1: 20 mm
4: 0.5" MG
Bombs - under wings 4,000 lb
1,814 kg
  P-38J Lightning
Type Fighter, Fighter bomber
Crew 1
Engine (Type) 2: Allison V-1710-89/91
2: Allison V-1710-111
Cylinders V 12
Cooling Liquid
HP 1,425 each, 1,475 each
Propeller blades 3 each
Dimensions  
Span 52'
15.85 m
Length 37' 10"
11.53 m
Height 9' 10"
3 m
Weight  
Maximum load 21,600 lb
Performance  
Speed at 5,000' / 1,542 m 360 mph
579 kph
Speed at 25,000' / 7,620 m 414 mph
666 kph
Cruising speed 186 - 290 mph
299 - 467 kph
Climb 3,670'/minute
1,118 m/minute
Climb to 20,000' / 6,096 m 7 minutes
Service ceiling 43,800', 44,000'
13,350 m
Range 450 miles
Range with 3,200 lb / 726 kg bombs 725 miles
1,167 km
Maximum ferry range 2,260 miles
3,637 km
Armament 1:20 mm
4: MG
Nose 1: 20 mm
4: 0.5" MG
Bombs 3,200 lb
Bombs - under wings 4,000 lb
1,814 kg
  P-38J-25 Lightning
Weight  
Empty 12,780 lb
5,797 kg
Loaded 19,800 lb
8,981 kg
Maximum load 21,600 lb
9,798 kg
  P-38L Lightning
Type Fighter, Fighter bomber
Crew 1, 1 - 2
Engine (Type) 2: Allison V-1710-111/113 turbo charged piston
2: Allison V-1710-111/113 piston
2: Allison V-1710-89/91
Cylinders Inline, V 12, 12
Cooling Water
HP 1,425 each, 1,475 each, 1,600 each
Propeller blades 3 each, 3 electric controlled
Dimensions  
Span 52'
15.85 m
Length 37' 10"
11.52 m, 11.53 m
Height 9' 10"
2.99 m, 3 m
Wing area 327 ft2 , 327.5 ft2
30.42 m2
Weight  
Empty 12,800 lb
5,806 kg
Loaded 17,500 lb, 21,600 lb, 21,800 lb
9,798 kg
Performance  
Speed at 25,000'/ 7,620 m 414 mph
666 kph
Speed at 25,500' 414 mph
Cruising speed 290 mph
Climb to 20,000' / 6,095 m 7 minutes
Service ceiling 44,000'
13,400 m, 13,410 m
Range 450 miles
724 km
Range - internal fuel 475 miles
765 km
Range - loaded 450 miles
Range - max 2,600 miles
Armament  
Nose 1: 20 mm
4: 12.7 mm MG
4: 0.5" MG
4: .50 cal MG
Bombs - under wings 2: 1,000 lb
2: 454 kg
OR 2: 1,600 lb
2: 726 kg
OR 4,000 lb, 3,200 lb
1,814 kg
OR  
Rockets - under wings 10: 5"
10: 127 mm
10: 5" HVAR
  F-4 Lightning
Type Photographic reconnaissance
Crew 1
Engine (Type) 2: Allison V-1710
Cylinders V 12
Propeller blades 3 each
  F-5 Lightning
Type Photographic reconnaissance
Crew 1
Engine (Type) 2: Allison V-1710
Cylinders V 12
Propeller blades 3 each

Sources:

  1. Aircraft of WWII, General Editor: Jim Winchester, 2004
  2. Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Editor: Karen Leverington, 1995
  3. The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, General Editor Chris Bishop, 1998
  4. Aircraft of WWII, Stewart Wilson, 1998
  5. World War II Airplanes Volume 2, Enzo Angelucci, Paolo Matricardi, 1976
  6. Aeronautics Aircraft Spotters' Handbook, Ensign L. C. Guthman, 1943
  7. American Attack Aircraft Since 1926, E. R. Johnson, 2012
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